As you open your Christmas cards this year, imagine opening one like the one above, beautifully embroidered by hand, and sent to you from the front line of the First World War. This card helped to connect soldiers to their families at home, and they would have waited eagerly for a reply.
Silk postcards grew in popularity from 1915, though they first appeared around 1900. Some estimates suggest as many as 10 million cards were produced during the First World War.
Each card was produced as part of a cottage industry which saw mostly women engaged in intricate designs being hand embroidered onto strips of silk mesh, the design being repeated as many as 25 times on a strip. This was then sent to a factory for cutting and mounting as postcards and greetings cards. The cards themselves were bought from civilians trying to scrape a living from supplying soldiers’ needs in the immediate war zone. They were not cheap, each one costing as much as three times the daily pay of the average soldier. Although they are postcards, they were often sold and sent home in an envelope to protect their contents.
There is a huge range; some had sentimental messages, such as “friendship”, “birthday greetings”, “Home Sweet Home” and some cards celebrated festivals and holidays. Many had delicately opening pockets with a small card insert. Others would give “Greetings from France” or poignant messages “from the trenches”.
Today this card connects us to events that occurred 100 years ago, and reminds us of the people who were not so different from us.
November is a time of remembrance for many in the United Kingdom. The 11th day of November is the anniversary of Armistice Day, and has become a time to reflect upon both the past and present sacrifices being made by service personnel.
The North Herts museum service has an extensive collection of military objects, these include uniform, photographs and everyday items such as ration books. In order to commemorate the ending of the First World War we have selected photographs of a small number of items in storage to share with you here today.
Figure I is a photograph of Graham Sydney Gilbertson a second Lieutenant in the Bedfordshire Regiment, 4th Battalion and later the 7th Battalion. Unfortunately Mr Gilbertson died aged 19 on the 28th November 1917, he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial .
Figure II shows the Death Plaque commemorating Graham S Gilbertson’s life and death. The plaques were presented to the families of all who died during the First World War.
Figure III is a ration book which is dated 6th July 1918 belonging to a local family of the name Waldock. Rationing was not introduced until February 1918 and was a response to an increase in German U-boat activity in the Atlantic. The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) had been established in 1914 in order to ensure food shortages did not occur, in spite of initial panic buying in 1914 the population settled well into a routine until late in 1916. Britain relied upon food imports from Canada and America and until 1916 this was a relatively safe business, however in 1917 German U-boat activity increased and merchant ships were attacked. This resulted in DORA issuing a self-rationing policy which, unfortunately was not sufficiently effective and the continuing U-boat activity in the Atlantic meant that malnutrition was becoming a problem by 1918. In January 1918 sugar was rationed, and by the end of April butter, margarine, cheese and meat were added to the list. The decision to introduce rationing was shown to be the correct one as levels of malnutrition decreased.
We Will Remember Them